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'Shotgun marriage' claim over new Taser firm

Staff from the Taser firm stripped of its licence after its weapons were used in the stand-off with gunman Raoul Moat will be working for the new company set up as its sole replacement in the UK, Home Office officials said today.

Pro-Tect Systems will be replaced by start-up firm Tactical Safety Responses (TSR), which is based in the same area and will use some of the same staff as its Northampton-based predecessor.

But Graham Widdecombe, of the Home Office, denied MPs' suggestions it was a "shotgun marriage" to get a firm in place very quickly in an effort to avoid a shortage of Taser weapons and cartridges.

Earlier, Pro-Tect managing director Kevin Coles told the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee that his firm broke its licence when its late director of operations Peter Boatman, a former police officer, decided to take the X12 Tasers, which were still being tested by Government scientists, directly to police involved in the Moat manhunt.

Mr Widdecombe agreed the Home Office had withdrawn authorisation to Pro-Tect, then granted a new licence to another company based in the same area with some of the same employees of the previous firm that had been struck off.

Asked by committee chairman Keith Vaz if he thought that was acceptable, Mr Widdecombe said: "Well it's something we had to look into very very carefully and it's not something we did lightly."

He went on: "We did seek assurances that the principles of Pro-Tect wouldn't be involved in any way in the setting up of the new company and that there were procedures in place and that the lessons had been learned.

"We're adding additional conditions to their section five authority to ensure that one person acting alone cannot do something similar."

He went on: "This is a newly-formed company.

"That's something we looked at very carefully to establish whether this was a new company or not, and to get assurances from them that the new arrangements were such as to avoid any similar situation."

Asked by committee member Steve McCabe why a completely different company was not chosen for a fresh start and a clean slate to avoid the impression "that everything was a bit cosy and collusive", Mr Widdecombe said no other UK firm had a business relationship with suppliers Taser International.

Mr McCabe added that with Taser International and now TSR both being monopoly suppliers, "the one protection in the system is that you license it so that it's above board and we have some safeguards.

"And the only decision you can come to after what's happened is to go back to what sounds like a version of the original company and start again."

Mr Widdecombe replied: "We do understand the concerns of the committee.

"Discussions were held with Taser International and it was suggested they might want to look in the longer-term more widely."